Experience of 3 Years Not Mandatory for Empanelment as Jail Visiting Advocate: Delhi HC

Author-Karan Yadav, [Gujarat National Law University]

The Delhi High Court Bench comprising of Justice Vibhu Bakhru held that the legal practitioners with less than three years’ experience at the bar can be empaneled as jail visiting advocates by the Delhi High Court Legal Service Committee. The said decision was pronounced in a petition wherein the petitioner had applied for being empaneled as a lawyer on the panel of jail visiting advocates pursuant to the notice inviting applications for the same by the Delhi State Legal Services Authority.

The petitioner was not selected and so he had challenged the selection on three grounds- Firstly, that the applications of certain applicants was entertained subsequent to the last date for filing applications. Secondly, selection without participating in the interview held for such selection. Further, two of such candidates have been selected despite not having the experience as required under Regulation 8(3) of the National Legal Services Authority (Free and Competent Legal Services) Regulations, 2010. The third contention by the petitioner was that the four candidates who had not applied for being empaneled on the Jail Visiting Panel, had been considered and selected. So, petitioner challenged the said selection scheme by calling it arbitrary and unreasonable.

The Court observed that in the month of February, applications were invited from eligible advocates and in pursuant to the aforesaid notice, certain applications were received. However, the selection process could not be completed within a reasonable time and thereafter, later, the Committee once again invited applications from eligible candidates for empanelment on the Criminal Panel and Jail Visiting Panel. In addition applications were invited for empanelment of civil advocates as well mediators. Later after scrutinizing the applications, certain selected advocates were called for the interview.

It was observed that to exempt the advocates on the extant panel, who had performed satisfactorily, from appearing for the interviews. However, while the interview process was on, a decision was taken by the Committee to also call those advocates for an interview who had been exempted from appearing in the interview round as per the earlier decision. The petitioner’s claim, that these candidates were called despite not applying within the stipulated period, is founded on a factually erroneous assumption. The Court here observed that, “This Court finds no infirmity with the said decision. Clearly, the object of an interview round is to ascertain the suitability of the candidates for being empaneled. In these cases, the extensive experience and standing was considered sufficient to ascertain their suitability for empanelment. Indisputably, the Committee retains the discretion to empanel lawyers and a decision to exempt certain candidates for sufficient and cogent reason cannot be considered as arbitrary or unreasonable.”

Regarding the contention of the candidates being inexperienced regarding Regulation 8(3),  the court observed by reading the same that- “Although, former Judicial Officers may not have the experience at the bar but it cannot be disputed that they have sufficient experience, which would establish their competence and suitability to be empanelled for providing legal services. The petitioner’s contention in this regard is wholly bereft of any merit.”

In respect of the third contention the court said, “The notice inviting applications had expressly stipulated that a candidate would be considered for empanelment to one panel only. Thus, a candidate who had applied for being empanelled for handling criminal cases (Criminal Panel) could not be considered for any other panel. The action of the Committee in considering these candidates runs contrary to the terms of its notice.”

The bench hence dismissed the petition by saying that, “The petitioner cannot be empaneled on the Jail Visiting Panel, the only consequence that follows is that the selection of all the three candidates for empanelment on the jail visiting panel is liable to be quashed. However, this Court does not consider it apposite to grant any such orders since the said candidates are not parties to the present petition, and it would not be apposite to pass any adverse orders to their interest in these proceedings. More importantly, the petitioner’s challenge is to the entire process of selection, which as indicated above, is not sustainable.”

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